The Cuckoo\'s Egg: Cliff\'s Persistence


By Clifford Stoll

"The Cuckoo\'s Egg" is a story of persistence, love for one\'s work and is just
plain funny! The story starts out with Clifford Stoll being "recycled" to a
computer analyst/webmaster.

Cliff, as he is affectionately called, is a long-haired ex-hippie that works at
Lawrence Berkeley Lab. He originally was an astronomer, but since his grant
wore out, he became a mainframe master. He was glad that instead of throwing
him out into the unemployment office, the Lab recycled their people and
downstairs he went, to the computer lab.

A few days after he becomes the master of the mainframe, his colleague, Wayne
Graves, asks him to figure out a 75cent glitch that is in the accounting system.
It turns out that a computer guru, "Seventek" seems to be in town. None of his
closest friends know that. The Lab becomes suspicious that it might be a hacker.

To fill you in who Seventek is, he is a computer guru that created a number of
programs for the Berkeley UNIX system. At the time, he was in England far from
computers and civilization. The crew does not what to believe that it would be
Seventek, so they start to look what the impostor is doing. Cliff hooks up a
few computers to the line that comes from the Tymnet. Tymnet is a series of
fiber-optic cables that run from a major city to another major city. So if you
were in LA and wanted to hook up to a computer in the Big Apple you could call
long distance, have a lot of interference from other callers and have a slow
connection, or you could sign-up to Tymnet and dial locally, hop onthe optic
cable and cruise at a T-3 line. The lab had only five Tymnet lines so Cliff
could easily monitor every one with five computers, teletypes, and five printers.

That was the difficult part, where to get all that equipment. At graduate
school they taught Cliff to improvise. It was a Friday, and not many people
come to work on Saturday. Since it was easier to make up an excuse than to beg
for anything, he "borrowed" everything he needed. Then programmed his computer
to beep twice when someone logged on from the Tymnet lines. The thing is, since
he was sleeping under his desk, he would gouge his head on the desk drawer.
Also, many people like to check their E-mail very late at night, so not to get
interference. Because of that his terminal beeped a lot! The next day, he was
woken up by the cable operator. Cliff said that he must have smelled like a
dying goat. Any way, the hacker only logged on once during the night, but left
an 80 foot souvenir behind. Cliff estimated a two to three hours roaming
through the three million dollar pieces of silicon that he calls a computer.
During that time he planted a "Cuckoo\'s egg." The cuckoo is a bird that leaves
its eggs in other bird\'s nest. If it not were for the other species ignorance,
the cuckoo would die out. The same is for the mainframe. There is a
housecleaning program that runs every five minutes on the Berkeley UNIX. It is
called atrun. The hacker put his version of atrun into the computer through a
hole in the Gnu-Emacs program. It is a program that lets the person who is
sending E-mail put a file anywhere they wished. So that is how the hacker
became a "Superuser." A superuser has all the privileges of a system operator,
but from a different computer. Cliff called the FBI, the CIA, and all the other
three lettered agencies that that had spooks in trench coat and dark glasses
(and some of them had these nifty ear pieces too!) Everyone except the FBI
lifted a finger. The FBI listened but, they stated that if they hadn\'t lost
millions of dollars in equipment, or classified data, they didn\'t what to know
them. The hodgepodge of information between the CIA, NSA,and Cliff began to
worry his lover, Martha. A little background on her. She and Clifford have
know each other since they were kids, and lovers since they turned adults. They
didn\'t feel like getting married because they thought that was a thing that you
do when you\'re very bland. They wanted freedom. If they ever wanted to leave
they would just pack their bags, pay their share of the utilities and hightail
it out of there. Well back to the plot. She too was